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Carl Schenkel’s Out of Order

On the Floors of Society

All that German Cinema can churn out are sepia-tinged romances, World War II dramas or comedies that seldom have any funny bone in them? Far from it!

Rarely was German Cinema braver, more captivating, more atmospheric, more dissecting of society than here in Carl Schenkel’s outstanding daily grind thriller Out of Order, drenched in neon noir images.

Written by


Oct 21, 2022

© Subkultur Entertainment

With a dizzying shot from up on high on the exterior of a German high-rise building we dive into the story, and — in true noir fashion — a woman immediately becomes the center of our attention. The foundation for what’s to unfold over the course of this fateful night is laid when, after a late-night dip in the indoor pool, this woman gets into the fateful elevator for the first time, where a mechanic has just finished his work on it.

“Finished his work” means everything’s fine again, right? Not quite. Just as this good man has left the building, something that Jordan Peele calls a “bad miracle” in this year’s Nope happens: After an unfortunate chain of events — caused by human error — the elevator gets stuck, but the alarm fails, and the night watchman doesn’t have the faintest idea that something has occurred. So far so mundane you might say, were it not for the four “inhabitants” in the cab, who offer us a truly fascinating stage play that quickly turns into something far removed from the daily grind.

One of those four is the previously mentioned woman, who is on her way to closing time with her male colleague. The two of them first encounter an old man working in the same building, as well as a young, rebellious punk-looking guy, who had also been wandering around the building, and the order in which these characters enter the cab on its way from top floor to first floor — they enter from old to young — immediately takes on a subtle yet significant meaning. When you’re younger you enter the cab later and at a lower level but you’re fighting for the same space as everyone who’s already inside. Ultimately though, everyone has the same inevitable destination: Going down. As fate would have it, these four acquaintances by necessity must now join forces to face a desperate situation.

Describing it as plainly as this, there’s really not that much that is drastically out of the ordinary up until this point. Even if you mention the old man’s secret, which the other three will discover later, what remains at its core is a survival story that is merely told and staged in a more suspenseful fashion than one might be used to, right? Fair enough, from a production standpoint the film is a cut above the rest, it offers breathtaking camera movements and incredibly framed shots, getting tighter and tighter and overwhelmingly close to the characters, while one moment they’re captured in the bleak light of the elevator and the next in a different, wonderfully sparse light, all while they’re waiting to be rescued.

And yet there is more, and this more is precisely what makes this film feel so special and magical, making its cast of characters reveal more and more nuances of themselves over the course of a plot that almost takes place in real time, nuances that are a diverse image of society at large at the time but personified in these four people. It’s all about the small things, the words not spoken, which keenly reveal not only a generational rift but also a rift of the sexes which both all too gladly aim to strike a nerve.

© Subkultur Entertainment

There’s the rich man in his midlife crisis, who is more than willing to consult his young female colleague for a project but ultimately seems to take credit for more than he is due. There’s the young female colleague herself, who we initially notice through an appearance that makes us think of her as a typical rich woman, but who simply managed to make something of herself and build something for herself to be able to afford things — leaving behind years of doing without, which, if you listen closely, is something you can hear all too clearly in her heavy-hearted voice.

Then there is that young rebel, cool as a cucumber, wearing his sunglasses at night, a Walkman on his ears and a portable video game in his hands to pass the time every now and then. He’s a walking, talking middle finger to the system: Everything is broken, nothing works as it’s supposed to, and this elevator ride experience is the prime example of it all. He’s already sick and tired of slaving away for others and a good job is hard to come by. All you need is a little bit of that seed money for a beach getaway and for setting yourself up somewhere better.

Last but not least, there’s the older man, standing in a corner for quite a long time without saying a word, not realizing that he’s non-verbally embodying what his own life is all about. He’s an accountant who hasn’t stood up for himself in years and who has worked hard earning everyone else’s money, having nothing to show for himself. He’s the symbol of a generation that, here in 1984, must still feel the after-effects of the last war first-hand, its soul crushed and its wings clipped so severely that nothing matters more than trying to make ends meet.

Not only do all these people cast an impressive image on society but they are the perfect examples of how quickly the roles we play in society and in our everyday lives can be revealed as nothing more than the masks we wear. Masks that we will take off faster than we might think in the face of desperation and possibly an impending death. This unmasking, as it were, is what makes Out of Order stand out as such a fine example of German Cinema and leaves us in a pondering mood, asking ourselves how this could have escalated so quickly, spiraling from a seemingly small problem into such a grand-scale catastrophe, which, in today’s world, seems to be a rather constant question coming to mind when hearing about all kinds of local and world events.

If you are in the mood for a look beyond the clichéd mask of modern German Cinema, I dare you to get into this elevator. Next stop, the thirteenth floor — not quite The Twilight Zone as The Lift by Dick Maas — but with a guaranteed view on the rifts in our society.

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